As the mercury rises across the capital, London’s tower blocks and estates are basking in the summer sun. But beyond the beer and BBQ’s, Councils and Housing associations across the UK are feeling increasing pressure from central government to make their buildings and housing stock more energy efficient. This stems from dual concerns regarding both the environment and the increasing cost of energy, a cost which comes directly from already stretched local authority budgets.
Tower Blocks offer a great opportunity for inner city solar PV energy production.
In response to this, several proactive councils and community organizations are beginning to install PV solar panels in order to meet this demand and reduce bills for both councils and residents. Under the governments Green Deal scheme, the Edward Woods estate in Hammersmith, West London received £16m in grants to upgrade its energy efficiency, this included installing a PV solar array on the roofs of the blocks to provide electricity to residents. This scheme has so far proved helpful in reducing bills for a largely deprived community, where a large proportion of residents would be described as in ‘fuel poverty’.
A scheme across the city in Brixton is developing community funded solar PV installations that do not rely on council money or government grants, but instead rely on private investment from both the estate’s residents and external investors. Its mission is to create ‘cooperatively owned renewable energy projects’ that benefit the community, bring down the peoples carbon footprint and substantially reduce energy bills. Run as a not for profit ‘Brixton Energy’ already has three sites across the area and is seeking investment to expand further. As a community project Brixton Energy seeks to benefit from the governments reformed FIT rates, these give higher rates to community owned energy projects that produce over 10 Megawatts of power. Investors also benefit from the governments Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) which gives a 50% tax break to those investing in the scheme. This helps to encourage small scale investment in innovative community run projects.
Although returns on these types of investments are small (estimated at 4%), harnessing private equity for these projects is crucial, and with the government’s continued support, these projects can benefit the communities involved and yield returns for investors. These schemes, both council and privately lead, also reduce the burden on peoples and the councils pocket by sourcing organised housing units’ power needs from renewable and sustainable technology. Although problems with this approach have been identified. An article produced by the BBC states that ‘Shares (in community solar projects) may be difficult to sell, as there is no real marketplace to do so.’
Source:BBC News, London School of Economics, Brixton Energy